Pupils from Llanharan Primary School in Rhondda Cynon Taff have embraced a rather unconventional classmate. Students from the school have enjoyed visits from a nine year old Labrador named Cruiser for just over four years.
The school works with national charity Pets As Therapy to drive a programme that supports pupils with attendance, wellbeing, behaviour, confidence and reading skills. Every Friday volunteers from the charity – Wendy and Kath bring their much loved chocolate Labrador into the school. Cruiser is an award winning ex show dog from Crufts and has undergone extensive training to become a therapy dog. She has had her health and temperament suitably assessed and has received a bronze, silver and gold good citizen dog award.
Cruiser joins a group of approximately eight children for an hour in the reading corner, and in turn each child will read out loud to the dog (and the rest of the group). The session is led by Sarah Williams the ALN Coordinator.
Sarah explained that visits from the volunteers and Cruiser had had a huge impact on pupils at the school ‘it really has improved attendance, confidence and encouraged our children to ask questions, as well as motivating one another. Students, who have attended a weekly session for over 12 weeks, have on average improved their attendance at school by 20-40%.
Speaking about the initiative, Mrs Price, Headteacher for Llanharan said ‘I heard about Pets As Therapy at a teacher conference. The programme had been popular in the North of England and I thought it was a fantastic idea. After some research, we found that we had volunteers for the charity right here in the village of Llanharan. We made contact and booked a session, it was an instant hit, and four years later we are still using the charity’.
Annie Leett and Kate George, Account Managers with recruitment and training providers New Directions Education went to meet the staff and pupils at the school and their extra special class mate Cruiser. Annie observed ‘As soon as Cruiser arrived all of the children got very excited and gave her lots of hugs. It was clear to see the children thoroughly enjoyed the session and Cruiser was in her element with all of the fuss, her tail never stopped wagging’.
Speaking to some of the students Annie and Kate discovered what it was they enjoyed about their furry classmate:
‘She helps us to read, and we look forward to seeing her every Friday’ remarked one pupil; another added ‘she helps us to come to school more’.
‘One thing is clear…’ added Annie ‘her impact is immediately evident’.
Each year over 4,500 Pets As Therapy dogs and a small number of cats work to bring comfort and companionship to thousands of people, young and old across the UK. The charity offers visits to schools, hospitals, hospices, nursing homes and a variety of other establishments.
Mrs Price summed up the relationship between her school and the charity ‘I would absolutely recommend Pets As Therapy to other schools, it has had a dramatic impact on wellbeing, attendance has gone up and the children actually enjoy reading…they even go to the library on their own accord and have written stories for the dog!’.
For more information about Pets As Therapy, or to donate to the charity visit www.petsastherapy.org or call 01844 345 445